Ponzi scheme or legitimate investment? One local man’s fight to get his money back from the Chavez family

Santos Nava at the foot of Porterville.Photo provided

In July 2007, Santos Nava, a migrant farm worker from Mexico, was dragged under a trailer while picking peaches when the hem of his trousers got caught in farm equipment. The accident dismembered his lower body, crushed his pelvis, fractured his femur, and injured his hip and sciatic nerve.

Nava was 16 years old and on her second day at work. He never worked again.

Attorney Fernando Chavez, eldest son of United Farm Workers (UFW) founder Cesar Chavez, represented Nava’s case. At the first trial, the case was dismissed, but Chavez continued his case, appealed, and won. Six years after his accident, Nava received his over $1 million in compensation.

This, combined with a workers’ compensation settlement worth over $100,000 in 2017, also negotiated by Chavez, financially set Nava up for life and he settled in Porterville.

But his windfall has also brought him financial woes as Nava has been trying since 2020 to recoup investments he made with Paul Chavez, son of Fernando Chavez and grandson of César Chavez.

Most of Nava’s money is set aside in annuities that pay $2,500 a month, but he also received about three lump sums, some of which he entrusted to Paul R. Chavez Investment Group.

In 2019, Paul Chavez was seeking investors for speculative commercial and residential real estate projects in East Palo Alto. Nava invested a total of $165,000, but as time went on, he didn’t get the promised returns and wanted his money back.

John Duran, a Porterville resident and civic activist, holds a power of attorney for Nava, alleging that Nava was defrauded in a Ponzi scheme run by Paul Chavez. Duran also said that Paul Chavez would trade off the Chavez name to get investors.

Paul Chavez said the investment was legitimate but went bankrupt. He also denied using Chavez’s name to solicit investors.

“I’m going to complete him,” said Paul Chavez.

Broken promises and unreturned calls

Duran defended his friend, calling, emailing and texting Chavez between June and August 2020, asking Chavez to return Nava’s money.

After months of “checks are in the mail” excuses and assurances, Nava hired a lawyer named Von Christenson of Christenson Law Firm LLP.

“Paul, we are very disappointed to mention cashing out. I had to,” Duran wrote in an email to Chavez on Sept. 2, 2020.

Christenson’s Sept. 15, 2020 letter to Chavez outlines Nava’s investment and what Chavez owes him.

“As you may know, on or around April 3, 2019, Mr. Nava invested $100,000 in Paul R. Chavez Investment Group, a mixed-use property located at 2126 University Avenue in East Palo Alto. Made for residential and commercial real estate development. CA.”

Nava invested another $65,000 in Paul R. Chavez Investment Group in June 2020.

“Following the terms of the two investments, Mr. Nava was to be paid interest at a rate of 10% to 16% based on the performance of the investment.”

Nava notified Paul Chavez of its desire to sell from the investment group later this year. The letter continues: Therefore, we hereby request the immediate return of such investment funds. ”

According to the letter, including the $20,433.33 interest Chavez owes on Nava’s investment, Chavez owes Nava a total of $185,933.33.

Christenson reportedly drew up a payment plan and Chavez signed a settlement agreement. was

However, the letter had no legal effect and Chavez defaulted and never paid.

Christenson took the next step in April 2021 and submitted terms to the Tulair County Superior Court for sentencing. The court ruled in Nava’s favor and Chavez was ordered to pay his $204,500.

Now, under court order, Chavez made payments totaling approximately $60,000 in April, July and August of 2021. But after a series of excuses for late payments, including his family’s funeral, a broken cell phone, and being unavailable because he was attending a Dolores Huerta lecture, Chavez stopped paying him.

After that, Chavez got his own lawyer.

According to Duran, Chavez’s attorney said, “Now take him to court and file a lawsuit. My client owns nothing and just declares bankruptcy.”

As a last resort, in July 2022, Nava hired Greystone, an aggressive collection company that had left threatening messages on Chavez’s voicemail.

In Greystone’s contract with Nava, the agency warned: Everything they say is a stalling tactic to avoid paying.

This was a tactic that Nava and Duran didn’t need to be warned about.

Chavez Foundation – involved or not?

The Cesar Chavez Foundation is not affiliated with the Paul R. Chavez Investment Group.

“Paul is one of Cesar Chavez’s 31 grandchildren,” said Mark Grossman, spokesperson for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. “The Foundation is not involved in the family’s private business. Neither Paul nor Fernando have anything to do with the Foundation, nor are they involved with the Foundation.”

Grossman asked, “Did either of you ever mention the Cesar Chavez Foundation?”

Durand claims that Paul did.

“Yeah, when we met, I asked him about his relationship with the Caesar Chavez Foundation. He acted like he was a man,” Duran said.

“Paul said he was president of the foundation,” he added.

According to Duran, after the accident, Nava’s brother asked who could help with medical bills and legal matters, and he discovered United Farm Workers. made contact with Fernando Chavez.

Durán said Fernando Chavez introduced him to his son Paul after Nava won a lawsuit against the grower.

Paul Chavez is said to have told Duran that he would never have had an investment business without the foundation. Chavez is said to have told Duran that he got many clients through his affiliation with the Caesar Chavez Foundation.

Durán said he and Nava particularly trust Paul Chavez because of his affiliation with the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

Duran actually met Cesar Chavez as a teenager when he visited Duran’s family home in Porterville while Chavez was organizing the American Federation of Farm Workers.

In a letter to Dolores Huerta in December 2021, Duran wrote: [Cesar Chavez] He has done what his heart and vision set him to do. My parents joined the march and proclaimed “Viva La Huerga!” on our walk to Sacramento.

Coincidentally or not, Grossman said neither Fernando nor Paul Chavez had anything to do with the Foundation, but Paul Chavez voice of the valley The morning after my interview with Grossman.

His call came six days after unsuccessfully trying to get an interview. His excuses included being unable to participate because he was in the Martin Luther King Freedom Rally.

Fernando Chavez called a few hours after his son.

Fernando Chavez has said Durán’s accusations that his son used the Chavez name to do business are absolutely untrue. He said Nava had just immigrated at the time and had never heard of Cesar Chavez. He speculated that Nava said he didn’t know who Cesar Chavez was or who the Foundation was, and that it made no sense for Paul to call the Elder his Chavez name.

Fernando Chavez also said he didn’t know him well and had nothing to do with his son’s investment business. , introduced Nava to him after Nava won his sentence.

Fernando said Paul set up Nava’s pension and lump sum payments.

Paul confirmed that he works with various law firms as a structured settlement consultant specializing in accidents. He said his day job had nothing to do with his investment group.

Paul has signed and consented to a stipulation judgment by the court, admitting he intends to pay his debts to Nava. He added that he was in the process of repaying the house.

Paul has denied using Chavez’s name to solicit investors. In fact, he says he does a lot of pro bono work of his own accord with DACA recipients.

Durán laughed when Fernando Chavez said he knew nothing about his son’s business.

“He knew very well what was going on,” said Durand.

In Durán’s letter to Huerta, he tells her: Fernando had attended one of his investment conferences and was apparently guiding his son’s venture. ”

Fernando Chavez’s legal license has been suspended twice, in April 2017 and again in 2021, for misappropriation of client funds. He left California and has been living in Florida for the past three years.

Durán concludes his letter to Huerta.

Duran said “SI SE PUEDE” and signed off.

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